Four Ways to Better Climate Control

By Tim Clark, Contributing Editor | October 08, 2010

When technology has the ability to bridge the gap between energy management savings and guest comfort, it's an obvious win-win. Popular hoteliers like Sheraton, La Quinta and Mandarin Oriental have all hit upon this exact concept; using energy management as a cornerstone for tremendous cost savings and an innovative way to provide guests with seamless customer service and comfort options. HT talks to hotel IT execs to collect some energy management best practices for others in the industry.

1. Tap infrared technology for seamless guest comfort and energy savings
David Heymann, VP and GM for the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel (www.sheratonsyracuse.com), says his location has become much more energy efficient over the last 10 years. He implemented Lodging Technology's (www.lodgingtechnology.com) GEM Link Wireless system a few years ago which connects to and controls any HVAC unit of any voltage with any type of thermostat. For Sheraton Syracuse's GEM system, an infrared box sits in the corner of the room and is synched to the guestroom door. When a guest leaves, the temperature is set back to a more efficient degree, if needed. For instance, if a guest sets the temperature to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the GEM system will revert back to 72 degrees until that guest walks back into the room. "We have had tremendous success with the unit," says Heymann. "It saves us thousands of dollars, at least an additional 15 to 20 percent reduction in our energy bills every month."

La Quinta (www.lq.com) is also using infrared and motion sensing, according to Michael Milburn, director, energy & sustainability dept., LQ Management. The hotelier tapped Inncom (www.inncom.com) technology to better manage the thermostat when guests are not in the room. Milburn says this same technology applies to most energy management systems, but Inncom provides different architectures and platforms including passive, infrared and RF technology. For la Quinta, there are two systems within guestroom energy management. A network system that transmits info in real time back to a computer located in the general manager's office and front desk. Other stand alone systems provide guestroom energy management just within the guest room without enhanced information that can be used. Both systems perform about the same, according to Milburn, but La Quinta chose the networked option for a majority of its installs because it captures important data. Alerts are sent out when sensors aren't working properly. Housekeepers can be dispatched to vacant rooms without disturbing guests. "All information can be accessed at the property level on a computer or remotely through the Internet," says Milburn. "There's information we can data mine from this and provide to different stakeholders. It allows us to pre-treat the room because it's connected to our property management system, so when a guest checks in the room automatically starts to pre-cool."

2. Keep guests in control and aware
La Quinta's, energy management policy is similar to Sheraton Syracuse in that both properties keep a close watch on efficiencies when the guest is not in the room. According to Milburn, when the guest is in the room, they own the room. "We made it clear to Inncom, our energy management provider, that when the guest is out of the room and the air conditioning is left from one extreme to another, we believe that energy can be utilized in a more conservation-minded way."

Syracuse Sheraton is of the same belief when it comes to guests owning the room. Heymann says management can override the GEM energy management system if a guest isn't comfortable, which rarely happens. "By placing a simple card in the room that explains our sustainability mandate we make the customer very aware that the system benefits us, the hotel, but that there is also a much bigger aspect to this, of being a better steward of the planet. The GEM system was very passive and easy to install. It does not affect guest comfort at all. And if you can save four degrees every hour of every minute the guest is not in the room, that's significant."

3. Seek Rebates to reduce capital outlay
Think that the ROI for energy management investments won't come fast? Think again. Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel received $18,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority after the GEM system was installed. "We've had very good success with the GEM system and Lodging Technology," says Heymann.

Milburn is also hip to generous rebates offered by states that reward hoteliers for deploying energy management systems. Some of La Quinta's California locations received rebates totaling $165,000. In La Quinta's Nevada locations, systems were implemented for pennies on the dollar, all thanks to rebates, according to Milburn. "It is really one of those rare technologies that offers a win-win-win scenario. It's a win for guests because it provides them the amenity of a wall-mounted thermostat.

Operationally, it helps reduce costs without disrupting guest comfort because we're only trying to manage the time the guest is not in the hotel room. Environmentally, this is a way to automate sustainable best practices."

4. Consolidate disparate systems
The Mandarin Oriental opened in Manhattan (www.mandarinoriental.com/newyork) in 2002 and showcased the company's first fully integrated energy management platform to include both thermostat and other in-room service buttons. But when David Heckaman, VP of technology, hotel development at the Mandarin Oriental, wanted to migrate energy management and audio/visual onto one platform, he reached out to Control4 (www.control4.com) based on the company's commitment to the ZigBee protocol.

"They eventually built their own energy management platform and it allowed us to migrate two disparate systems," says Heckaman: an energy management system, and an in-room audio visual system. "The beauty of having in-room energy management and entertainment platforms together is that they touch things as simple as the turndown service." As maids finish turn down service in a room, for example, they can hit a sequence of buttons right as they exit that immediately sets the room to 'turn down mode.' The mode not only helps reduce energy costs, but it allows the hotel to control quality and consistency. "In the luxury hotel market where consistency is paramount, these attributes make a big difference," says Heckaman.

Using Control4, Mandarin Oriental guests control major aspects of the room through the TV or the thermostat on the wall. Control4 is also hooked into the property management system so that it distinguishes between guest and employee keys. If an employee enters the room, the pre-set, energy-efficient mode remains intact. But when a guest enters, the room "wakes up" and kicks into entry feed mode: the TV turns on to the welcome channel, drapes open and lights ramp up. "So when the guest opens the door, they automatically get this experience, all made possible from an integrated energy management and audio visual system," says Heckaman.

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